TBR Challenge: RITA-Nominated Inspirationals

I read three again. Because I’m an over-achiever, not because I’m obsessive-compulsive. Shut up.

I chose inspie nominees from the past three years, from three different eras.

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Betrayal by Robin Lee Hatcher

  • Betrayal by Robin Lee HatcherTitle: Betrayal
  • Author: Robin Lee Hatcher
  • Series: Where the Heart Lives, Book 2
  • Published: Zondervan, November 2012
  • Source: Purchased ($1.99 promo on Amazon)
  • Length: 273
  • Tropes: Deep Dark Secrets, Widow, Drifter, Western
  • Quick blurb: A drifter helps a lonely widow in 1899 Wyoming.
  • Quick review: Quietly angsty, but a noticeable lack of tension.
  • Grade: B-

He turned his back to the wall of the barn, leaned against it, and closed his eyes. Then he waited. Waited for the last dregs of the nightmare to fade away. Waited to forget the man he used to be. Waited for the fragile peace he’d found in a Savior to sweep over him, even though he didn’t fully understand that Savior yet. Waited.

He was good at waiting. It was a trait he’d learned in prison. If he hadn’t learned it, the cramped space he’d lived in for so many years would have driven him mad.

I’ve read a few by Hatcher before, including the first book in this series, and I enjoy her understated style and the way she makes the faith messages part of the characters’ everyday lives.  This one was a little too understated — it was good, but not different enough from every other Western inspie to make it worth a re-read. There wasn’t much tension beyond the mostly unseen Evil Ex-Brother-In-Law, and the way that conflict fizzled out left me feeling cheated of a Total Drama Moment.

Betrayal was nominated for Best Inspie of 2012, but lost to one of my top favorite books of all-time DIK forever, Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden.

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Promise to Return by Elizabeth Byler Younts

  • Promise to Return by Elizabeth Byler YountsTitle: Promise to Return
  • Author: Elizabeth Byler Younts
  • Series: The Promise of Sunrise, Book 1
  • Published: Howard Books, October 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 320
  • Tropes: World War II, Amish
  • Quick blurb: A young Amish couple’s faith in God and each other is severely tested during World War II.
  • Quick review: Spiritual conflict and romantic angst to the NTH DEGREE.
  • Grade: C

“The way I see it is that God usually has us on this narrow path where we can only see the step right in front of us. Then sometimes,” he paused and looked away again, “sometimes I feel like He opens a huge door or a field or, I don’t know, opens something that shows me how big His plans are, and suddenly I have all this room to move around. Sometimes it’s way off the path I expect. Do you know what I mean?”

I feel ridiculous whining about being depressed by a book about World War II, but jeepers, there was nothing uplifting about this inspie. The romance is achingly lovely, the spiritual conflict is heartbreaking, and the ending made me weepy. It’s really well-written, it’s completely different from every other inspie I’ve read, and it’s fully deserving of a RITA nomination. But I did not enjoy reading it it — the angsty dreariness was relentless.

Believe it or not, this was the first traditional Amish romance I’ve ever read (not counting the m/m series by Keira Andrews, which is utterly brilliant). Of all the weird shit I read (I work for Riptide, remember), I avoid Amish stories, mostly because I feel like (a) I’m violating some unknown person/character’s much-valued privacy and (b) someone is making money off their faith without their consent. I didn’t feel quite as squicky about this one because the author grew up in an Amish family and I felt she wouldn’t be exploitative.

For whatever reason, Promise was one of only two inspies nominated last year — the winner was the contemporary Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano.

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Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie

  • Hope at Dawn by Stacy HenrieTitle: Hope at Dawn
  • Author: Stacy Henrie
  • Series: Of Love and War, Book 1
  • Published: Forever (Grand Central), June 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 384
  • Tropes: World War I, Iowa, Small Town
  • Quick blurb: A young schoolteacher finds herself facing unexpected drama when she falls in love with a German-American farmer in World War I.
  • Quick review: I just bought all the sequels. At full price.
  • Grade: B+

“Perhaps your real question is not how to stand for goodness, but when. Am I right?”

After reading Promise to Return, I was really iffy on another wartime homefront weepfest, but then I realized Hope was SET IN IOWA and I COULDN’T NOT READ IT. I only cried a little.

The basic premise is similar to Promise: the onset of war forces an insular community to interact with the outside world. In this case, the conflict is prejudice and discrimination against German-Americans during World War I — prohibitions on speaking German, “vigilance committees,” extortion to buy war bonds to prove patriotism. The pacing is much  better than Promise, with some high points to balance out the angst.

I’m giving it a B+ instead of an A because despite my love for it, I couldn’t stop thinking that whatever German-Americans were facing in 1918 Iowa, it was nothing compared to the horrors to come.

I read Henrie’s debut during the Summer of Harlequin, but didn’t realize it was the same author. Hope is the only current RITA inspie nominee I’ve read so far, but I just bought Huckleberry Summer despite the ridiculously dopey title and cover because it’s about a big slobbery dog and the hero is an environmental protester who chains himself to trees. I had to move the ARC of For Such a Time by Kate Breslin to the DNR-DNR and WTF-UGH-BLAH-ICK-STFU shelves because apparently I did not read the blurb closely before requesting.

Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Colonial/Revolutionary Binge

The party continues with a list that’s not so random – my recent reads about colonial, revolutionary and post-war/frontier America. I’d been hoarding most of these for years, but finally got inspired by — wait for it — Jude Devereux’s The Raider.

Most are from inspie publishers, who seem to be the only ones interested in non-Brit settings. Maybe someday Harlequin will discover early America. I would GLOM THAT SO HARD. That sounds vaguely dirty, but you know what I mean.

All the family pics are from a trip to Washington D.C.,  in 2008 to visit my little sis, who had an actual job actually schmoozing actual politicians. She likes that sort of thing (*~*shudder*~*).

Kids_MtVernon2

Damn, my kids are cute.

Things 1&2 were eight and five. We spent July 4th at Mount Vernon, where it was approximately 157 degrees, with mosquitoes the size of bats and restroom lines nine miles long. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

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The colonial era

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton
The story of Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallet,  a founder of Greenwich, Connecticut, and ancestor of Howard Dean,  John Kerry, Amelia Earhart, Bill Gates and Johnny Depp. No, seriously. Not quite as good as Seton’s Katherine, but definitely a must-read. There’s some info-dumping when the narrative skips ahead a few months or years, but the heroine’s struggles with her Puritan community and the harshness of the early settlements are incredibly vivid and memorable. Grade: A- (HMH, 1958; purchased (I own all of Seton in paper, ebook and audio)) Continue reading

The Heyer Project: Part II – A Matrix O’ Heyer Tropes

Bugger, bugger, bugger — I started this over a month ago and emailed it to myself so I wouldn’t lose it. *sigh*

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In which I color-code a spreadsheet and compare The Grand Sophy to Curious George.

heyer_part2

Holy crap, I cannot believe it’s been over a year since Part I. I haven’t ruminated on my Balogh Binge yet either. I am such a slacker.

But then, sometimes things like this happen:

heyer_tweet

I am serious about this. I have never met any of you, but I seriously love you guys.

So this is me:

heyer_dug

Yes. I used a gif. Get over it. It’s Dug, so you can’t complain.

On to the good stuff! My initial foray into Heyer included (in reading order):

  • The Black Moth
  • FredericaPowder & Patch
  • Pistols for Two
  • April Lady
  • Cotillion
  • The Nonesuch
  • The Masqueraders
  • Black Sheep
  • Frederica
  • Venetia
  • The Grand Sophy
  • The Unknown Ajax
  • The Convenient Marriage

Since then, I’ve done all the rest on audiobook (all dirt-cheap from Audible thanks to Amazon’s nifty “Hey, You Really Need This Ebook On Audio Too, Just Give Us All Your Money And Be Done With It Already” feature). So a shout-out to Sourcebooks for their incredible $1.99 ebook sale way back when.

Round 2, in reading order:

  • Bath Tangle
  • farosdaughterThe Toll-Gate
  • Regency Buck
  • Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle
  • Sprig Muslin
  • Devil’s Cub
  • The Quiet Gentleman
  • Faro’s Daughter
  • Arabella
  • The Foundling
  • False Colours
  • A Civil Contract
  • The Reluctant Widow
  • The Talisman Ring
  • Friday’s Child
  • Cousin Kate

I’m only doing the romances (not the hist-fics or mysteries), so I think I only have a few left to go: These Old Shades, The Corinthian, Charity Girl and Lady of Quality.

That’s a lot of Heyer. And since this is all about ME, I made up my own Matrix O’ Heyer Tropes. There are many, many cross-overs, but this is how I find myself mentally categorizing them.

heyer_matrixView larger image!  |  View and comment(!!!) on the spreadsheet!

As I’m typing the list and re-color-coding the spreadsheet, I keep realizing how brilliant Heyer was in using the same tropes to tell very different stories. Continue reading

TBR Challenge: More Than One – Carla Kelly Harlequins

These challenges make me feel like an overachiever because they totally enable my hoarding/binging tendencies. I’ve been sitting on SEVENTEEN (17) (no lie) Carla Kellys for years because I knew that once I started, I’d have to read them all. So I did. And it was gooooood.

I’m only going to do the Harlequins in this post — more on the Signets next time! (And yes, I’ve read all of Kelly’s other Harlequins. I’m a capital-F Fangirl.)

Her Hesitant Heart by Carla KellyHer Hesitant Heart

  • Title: Her Hesitant Heart
  • Published: Harlequin Historical, January 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 282
  • Tropes: Deep Dark Secrets, Scandal & Gossip, Beta Hero, Military Man, Widower, Schoolmarm
  • Quick blurb: Newly divorced schoolmarm finds refuge teaching at remote army fort.
  • Quick review: Great setting and perfect pacing, but the angst needed a bit more balance.
  • Grade: B+

“I can’t tell you how nice it was to open my front door and take a whiff of someone cares.”

Nobody does historical military romance better than Carla Kelly. She has an exquisite knack for world-building that has me THERE every single time, and this book was no exception. The only thing that knocked it down to a B was the uneven angst balance — it was all on the heroine, with the stalwart hero basically standing around waiting to display his stalwartiness. Continue reading

TBR Challenge: The Earl I Adore by Erin Knightley

February’s TBR Challenge was “Recommended Read (A book recommended to you by another reader/blogger etc.).” I blame this one on John (@DreamingReviews) who reviewed it for Heroes and Heartbreakers. “Heroine plays the oboe” = FASTEST ONE-CLICK EVER.

Yes, I played the oboe. Full-on band geek. You are not surprised.

  • The Earl I Adore by Erin KnightleyTitle: The Earl I Adore
  • Author: Erin Knightley
  • Series: Prelude to a Kiss
  • Published: Signet, January 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 336 pages
  • Tropes: Big Misunderstanding, Deep Dark Secrets, Music Nerds, Mean Girl
  • Quick blurb: The heroine plays oboe. The hero sings opera. There’s some conflict-type stuff but I didn’t pay attention to that because MUSIC-SWOON.
  • Quick review: To quote the hero describing the heroine, it’s : “…a glass of champagne. Effervescent, light, and sweet.”
  • Grade: B

“You make me want to learn more Italian,” he murmured, offering her a small private smile.

“You make me want to listen to more opera,” she replied….

This was just charming. I’m going to be lazy and just tell you to read John’s review, because he really captures the feel of it. I never would have even looked at it without his recommendation — the title and cover just scream “wallpaper.” It does skirt the boundaries of fluff, but the wooing-with-music scenes are quite swoon-y, and I may have needed a tissue or two at the end.

And, of course, I bought the first in the series, featuring a pianist and her grumpy neighbor, and I’m impatiently awaiting book three with the Chinese heroine who plays the zither. THE ZITHER. I’m not kidding.

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More on the I Was a High School Oboe Player….

Why did I play oboe, you ask? Because I started out on the clarinet, but my two best friends were always first and second chair and I got sick of competing with them. Only two oboes, so I’d never sit lower than second chair — and I only had to practice once a week.

True story.

“The double reed is quite tricky, and it can be a lot of effort to get the sound just right, so we oboists tend to have exceedingly strong lips.”

Oboes cost $1200 for a “cheap” student model. Reeds cost $12-15 each. Strong lips, indeed.

TBR Challenge: Free Agent by Roz Lee

My first #tbrchallenge — woohoo!

  • Free Agent by Roz LeeTitle: Free Agent
  • Author: Roz Lee
  • Series: Mustangs Baseball, #0.5
  • Published: State of Mind Publishing, May 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 65 pages
  • Tropes: BDSM, Insta-Lust, Insta-Love
  • Quick blurb: Star ballplayer hooks up with new sub
  • Quick review: *YAWN*
  • Grade: D

“If you sign the contract tomorrow, we’ll seal the deal with a good fuck. How’s that?”

Yeesh. It’s a good thing this was a freebie, because it’s got every possible erotica cliché. I annotated every other paragraph with a variation of “Of course.”

  • Honey-blonde hair hung in soft waves over bare shoulders, framing fine features, porcelain fair skin, and blue eyes. [Of course.]
  • It was as if she saw past his defenses, right to his soul. [As he’s eye-fucking her while she’s fingering herself. Before they’ve even spoken. Because OF COURSE.]
  • Brooke licked her lips…. [Of course she did. How else would he know she’s horny?]
  • “…say yellow if you need a minute before we continue, red if you can’t take anymore.” [Because we all need BDSM 101 in every.single.book.]
  • Glossy pink petals framed a perfectly shaped slit. [Of course it’s perfect. Duh.]
  • …the most amazing orgasm of her life. [At their first actual encounter at the dungeon. Of course.]
  • He’d claimed a part of her no one else ever had—her heart.  [After their first encounter at the dungeon. And they’ve only shared first names. Of course.]
  • Now, she understood. The real pleasure came from pleasing her master, not the other way around. [*yawn*]
  • ...until he met Brooke, he hadn’t truly understood the submissive partner held as much power—perhaps more—than the dominant one. [*YAWN* Will this be on the quiz?]

Other random thoughts/observations:

  • There is zero character- or relationship-building. These people are completely cardboard and interchangeable with every other bad erotica I’ve read.
  • Might have been a D+ if not for the pluralizing-with-an-apostrophe egregiousness (“two single Dom’s looking…”) throughout.
  • The meet-cute occurs at a munch. Yes, a “munch.” I cannot believe I’ve never come across that term before.
  • The contract is “Concise and well written with headings, subheadings, and bullet points.” She wonders if a secretary prepared it for him. [No, really.]
  • The word “slurping” is used.
  • Secondary character is a sub named Candy. There are dessert jokes.
  • The characters contradict themselves ALL THE TIME, sometimes even within the same sentence. “Punishment is not intended to be pleasant” — but then he teases her about being a pain slut and yammers on about how sexy her moans are. “I don’t enjoy leaving those marks” — but, um, dude, YOU’RE A DOM WITH A FLOGGER.

I was hoping for something quick and fun to prep for a Spring Training baseball theme. I’ll keep looking.

The Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge: The Historicals

It’s still the holidays. YES, IT IS. Because I’m the only one in the office at the dayjob.

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Now on the DIK Shelf….*

A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy Williams

  • A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy WilliamsTitle: A Cowboy for Christmas
  • Author: Lacy Williams
  • Series: Wyoming Legacy, #5
  • Published: Harlequin Love Inspired Historical, December 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Tropes: Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption, Angst-O-Rama
  • Quick blurb: Former bad boy tries to make amends with boss’s daughter for a horrific accident
  • Quick review: Lovely. Just lovely. *~*HAPPYSIGH*~*
  • Grade: A

“I thought, for a moment, that you might kiss me.” She rushed on, a fountain of words babbling out of her. “And I know you didn’t want to. I know you said we’re to be friends, and I didn’t want you to think that had I had any expectations, because I don’t—”

Three strides brought him to her, but it wasn’t until he took her upper arm in his hand that she went silent. Looking up at him, she could see his face was like a thundercloud, eyes stormy.

“You think I don’t want to kiss you?” He grated the words, as if it was hard to speak them.

“I know you don’t.”

“You don’t know anything.”

He reached for her, and before she could even think that she should push him away — that she didn’t want a pity kiss from him — he’d cupped her jaw, his calloused palm sliding along her cheek and sending sparks flying like a summer cowboy campfire….

It was like putting a match to tinder.

By the time I finished the first chapter, I was THERE. Book Trance. I can’t reveal too much without spoilers, but this book is a master class in angst as a plot device. And character- and relationship-building. And describing panic attacks and agoraphobia. And portraying struggles with faith. Also, there’s a puppy rescue.

I read a few of Williams’ earlier books on Scribd; they were on the OK-but-not-memorable scale. After finishing Cowboy, I bought the entire Wyoming Legacy series — I’m giddy about seeing how she’s evolved as a writer. Let the Author Binge continue!

*As soon as I update that page. Remind me to do that. DONE!

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More inspies….

Married by Christmas by Karen Kirst

  • Married by Christmas by Karen KirstTitle: Married by Christmas
  • Author: Karen Kirst
  • Series: Smoky Mountain Matches, #5
  • Published: Harlequin Love Inspired Historical, October 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Tropes: Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption, Marriage by Scandal, Angst Lite
  • Quick blurb: Former bad boy must marry woman whose life he disrupted with an unfortunate accident
  • Quick review: And…I bought the rest of the series.
  • Grade: B

I read Kirst’s The Husband Hunt first — a charming friends-to-lovers story. This one was really enjoyable too; the basic premise is very similar to the Williams book, but the difference in tone and voice make these completely unique reads.

Continue reading